Heat future cloudy beyond this series


Things have changed a bit for the Miami Heat.

Not two, not three, not four, not five, not six, not seven ...

Today, you have to wonder: Can the Three Kings get two?

The summer of 2010 seems forever ago when it comes to the Heat, to images of a welcome party that included dancing cheerleaders and blaring music and your typical South Beach pyrotechnics, a moment for their fans to celebrate a free-agent haul that was supposed to create a historic shift in NBA power for years to come.

“Having an opportunity to team up and win with arguably the best trio to ever play the game of basketball is amazing,” Dwyane Wade said then about a trifecta of himself, LeBron James and Chris Bosh.

Somewhere that night, Larry Bird, Kevin McHale and Robert Parish laughed.

Somewhere, Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and James Worthy joined in.

Somewhere, Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen and Dennis Rodman mocked the Heat.

Somewhere, Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili politely declined comment because, well, that’s what all good Spurs do.

It’s not totally 2007 for James, but it’s closer than you might imagine. He took the Cavaliers to the NBA Finals that season, dismissed in a four-game sweep by San Antonio, mostly because the Spurs had younger versions of Duncan, Parker and Ginobili while James was playing alongside guys named Boobie Gibson and Larry Hughes.

But much can change in six years, beginning with the fact James is unquestionably now the league’s best player and buffered by a supporting cast that is far more skilled and accomplished than what he endured in Cleveland.

Still, if these current playoffs have proved anything, it’s that while James probably still can’t win a championship by himself, he still must produce a few superhuman efforts in each best-of-7 series for Miami to advance.

How many of those types of games will be needed for the Heat to defeat the Spurs in a Finals that begins Thursday is unknown, but anyone with an unbiased eye — meaning most anyone other than that classy blonde Heat fan who stuck her middle finger in Joakim Noah’s face — can see that those boastful claims of winning countless rings will fall short in Miami.

The Heat aren’t going to win upward of seven titles with the James-Wade-Bosh trio. They won’t come close. If they somehow can’t discover a way to extract from Wade the sort of effort he delivered in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals against Indiana and hope Bosh doesn’t again disappear for games on end, last year’s championship could be the only one Miami wins with the three stars who sat on stools while predicting greatness at that welcome party.

“Every single night, we’re going to make the world know, not just this league, but the world know the Heat is back,” James said then. “Once the games start, it’s going to be easy.”

It has been anything but, camouflaged by a 27-game win streak this season, with more signs than not pointing to Miami’s leash on winning beyond this year growing shorter and shorter.

Wade is a scientific marvel, given he is 31 with knees that are 86. Bosh recently said he deserves to be in the Hall of Fame, which I completely agree with if he’s talking about being recognized as such solely by the Toronto Raptors, but only after Vince Carter receives such due from the franchise.

It’s true those supporting players in Miami’s lineup are better this season than when the Heat needed seven games to beat Boston in the conference finals a year ago — quick, do you want Dexter Pittman or Ray Allen taking shots? — but it’s also a fact that the Heat are facing all sorts of potential luxury tax issues in 2014, meaning it’s anyone’s guess as to who they could surround their stars with next.

James, Wade and Bosh can opt out of their contracts in July 2014, but it’s really only James the basketball world will watch with great interest and, really, the only one of the three who could walk away from $41 million over the next two years and land a better deal.

And if championships turn to, say, falling short of the Finals in 2014, you have to figure James might chase rings elsewhere, perhaps to destinations such as Los Angeles or home to Cleveland, all the more ironic when you consider how much attention a certain decision received three years ago.

Miami is favored in these Finals and should be, given the home-court advantage resides in American Airlines Arena. But in a relatively short time, the historic significance predicted by and for the Three Kings has been dramatically reduced.

I think they beat San Antonio, which would give the Heat two titles since those South Beach pyrotechnics lit up a stage.

I think it ends there.

I think three, four, five, six, seven is as much a fantasy now as it was in 2010.

Las Vegas Review-Journal sports columnist Ed Graney can be reached at egraney@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4618. He can be heard from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday on “Gridlock,” ESPN 1100 and 98.9 FM. Follow him on Twitter: @edgraney.